Marketing development funds (MDF) — also known as channel or co-marketing programs — is one of the most common sources of friction between companies and their selling partners.

Typically, companies provide co-op style marketing dollars to resellers so these partners can, in turn, invest in marketing and engagement activities to build pipeline and drive awareness with new and existing prospects.

While MDFs are a key benefit of most indirect sales programs, they’re often underutilized or ineffective. A worldwide channel survey by Zinfi found that 60 percent of MDFs go unused on a quarterly basis, and a 2018 State of Partner Marketing report found that more than half of all partners viewed existing marketing content provided by vendors as mediocre or worse.

The fact is, low partner engagement with channel marketing programs is an issue that 85 percent of companies struggle with, according to a 2019 DemandGen Report. Given that, it’s also an area of significant opportunity for companies willing to course correct.

If you find that the vast majority of your sales are coming from a small percentage of partners — or if the same 10 partners are consistently leveraging and participating with MDFs while the rest remain unengaged — it’s time to rethink how you design and support your partner marketing program.

This blog will explore some of the reasons why channel marketing funds go unused and provide tips on how to truly enable your partners to leverage available funds so they can market themselves (and your product) more successfully.

Why MDF programs fail

Much has been written about the reasons why channel marketing programs suffer from low engagement rates, but the two we encounter most frequently are improperly designed campaigns and lackluster partner training.

In many cases, partners don’t possess a dedicated marketing team or the internal skills to execute a marketing campaign. On top of that, many companies offer only canned marketing content that’s difficult to customize and doesn’t account for the specific messaging needs of their partners.

Offering your resellers a “campaign in a box” isn’t going to help them sell more. While we’re fans of repurposing great marketing content, too often companies simply regurgitate direct sales and marketing materials to their vendors without taking the time to consider whether the message is a good fit.

So how do you improve partner engagement with your co-marketing program? The answer is to design your co-marketing program around the needs of your partner, not your product. These four best practices will help you get started.

4 tips for a more effective, partner-focused MDF program

1, Know your channel audience

While they are intertwined, your product or technology’s marketing message isn’t the same as your resellers’. Does your channel partner provide additional services, management, or installation? If so, your partner marketing resources should reflect this. Think of your channel partners like a buyer persona — one in which you provide targeted customer-focused marketing messages rather than broad strokes.

2, Give resellers the opportunity to tell their own story

Does your MDF program enable vendors to wrap their message around your product or technology? Because your partners likely make money on their services — rather than by selling your product — give them the flexibility to easily add their story and value proposition.

3, Offer marketing training

Our most successful channel marketing clients invest heavily in training smaller partners on how to market. They create playbooks or develop webinars to educate their partners on marketing best practices. The result is a network of resellers that is much more likely to leverage marketing materials and make use of channel marketing funds.

4, Provide customizable content

Providing customized content for your vendors is more than just giving them room to add their logo. If you’re offering email campaign content, for example, allow your partners freedom to massage the language and include their own services or offerings. The best way to do this is to provide email samples or brand messages served up alongside editable content areas where partners can weave in their own story.

High-performing partner marketing programs

It’s not enough to just offer MDF. To get the most out of your partner marketing dollars, you must design a program and provide support that truly enables your partners to sell more. Most of the time, that means giving your partners the tools and resources they need to share their message and value.

Doing this right will position your brand ahead of competitors, as vendors who are easiest to work are more likely to gain favor with resellers.

Want more innovative ideas on how to design a high-performing channel marketing program to support your partners? Drop us a line today to get started.